The Sense of an Ending

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

An incredibly depressing book, but yet worth the read. It's a really short book too, at 150 pages, but a slow 150 pages as you take your time to slowly process what is being said and the little intricacies behind everything. 147 quotes from the book on goodreads in 150 pages is pretty crazy, but yes it is that quotable. Though not quite in the same way as I would say perks is quotable.

I have always wondered about how each individual is so complex till we often do not even fully understand ourselves, our motives. If so, how we pretend to begin to understand other people? We see others through our own eyes and think of them using our own minds as the basis, but our minds could be so different from theirs, how could we ever have an accurate portrait?

On a broader level, the novel deals with 'what is history', or rather the idea of how flawed our perspectives and memories are. This is explored through the eyes of our unreliable narrator seeking for and coming to terms with the truth. At the end of the day, while the mystery keeps you going, it is the self discovery (or lack thereof) of the narrator which in turn causes reader's to reflect upon its implications on their own lives that really gives this short novel its acclaim.

Each and every single bit of these 150 pages were clearly well thought through. Not a single sentence was wasted. Initially when I first started the novel, the segments on when the narrator and his friends were still students, I had an impression that many of the things discussed were merely there for characterisation, for example showing how much of an intellectual Adrian was. However upon further reading, the novel would often revisit these earlier segments and the ideas discussed. In fact, the initial segments of the novel were filled with foreshadowings that would only become clearer later.

I especially like the way sometimes Julian Barnes would draw some parallels to the ideas discussed at the beginning of the novel, but sometimes he wouldn't, but it's there. Eros and Thanatos is one of them and though the novel never really revisits it, when I finally reached the end I could feel how this little idea really added to the novel.

There are two main theories on the ending of the book. I had automatically assumed the one which appeared to be obvious when I first finished the book but upon further reading and checking out what are people are saying, I do realise that there are questions to be raised about this conclusion, and in the light of the narrator being an unreliable narrator, there exists a second possible conclusion to the novel. Personally, I feel that it is important to appreciate both these possibilities, but there is no sense in trying to find the answer. Just like how the movie inception ended without viewers ever knowing for sure if the top stopped spinning, the same goes here. You don't know, and that's the point. We are, after all talking about a novel that is discussing the fallibility of perception and memory, and whose title is 'the sense of an ending'.

With all these points I mentioned above and more, I would highly recommend this book for an English EE. There are so many intricacies to explore, literary significance to find, perhaps four thousand words would not be enough.

To end off, three excerpts from the novel.


“What is history? Any thoughts, Webster?'

'History is the lies of the victors,' I replied, a little too quickly.

'Yes, I was rather afraid you'd say that. Well, as long as you remember that it is also the self-delusions of the defeated."


“History isn't the lies of the victors, as I once glibly assured Old Joe Hunt; I know that now. It's more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious or defeated.” 


What had Old Joe Hunt answered when I knowingly claimed that history was the lies of the victors? 'As long as you remember that it is also the self-delusions of the defeated.' Do we remember that enough when it comes to our private lives?